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Irene – Californian Elegance

Irene Lentz-Gibbons (1900-1962) American

Doris Day in Midnight Lace, 1960.

Irene Lentz-Gibbons designed for many Hollywood stars off-screen, such as Claudette Colbert, while also freelancing for many of the film studios. Her reputation was made when actress Dolores Del Rio requested all of her film costumes in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio be designed by the unknown Lentz-Gibbons.

Loretta Young in Bedtime Story, 1941.

Her designs developed a reputation for epitomizing Californian elegance with her daywear suits being described as “slim, curvy and tailored” and her eveningwear as “lavish and dramatic with feathers, frills, and sparkle.” At this point, Irene, as she billed herself, was freelancing for both independent producers and working at various studios. Her work was seen in Paramount, RKO, Columbia and United Artists films.

Irene, Inc. silk dress, 1950.

In 1942, she took Gilbert Adrian’s place after he resigned as Executive Designer for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. She inherited a staff of over 200 employees. During her time at MGM she met and married writer Eliot Gibbons, brother of MGM’s art director Cedric Gibbons.

Silk dress, 1935.

Over her ten years at MGM, Irene worked as costume designer and costume supervisor on more than a hundred and fifty films.  She designed for stars such as Hedy Lamarr, Ginger Rogers, Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur, Loretta Young, Carole Lombard and others. She costumed them for appearances in all the heady dramas, frothy musicals, hilarious comedies and Esther Williams swim movies that MGM released until the end of the 1940s.

Hat and gown from Midnight, 1939.

Two years before leaving MGM, in 1947, the studio allowed Irene to open her own ready-to-wear fashion design company, “Irene, Inc.” It was closely tied to the studio and over 20 high-end stores had exclusive rights to her designs.

Silk brocade and chiffon dress, 1958.

In the early 1960s, she returned to films to work with Doris Day in Midnight Lace (1960) and Lover Come Back (1961). In 1962, not so long after her return, she took her own life by jumping out a window in the Knickerbocker Hotel.

Judy Garland in Easter Parade, 1948.

Her films: Gaslight with Ingrid Bergman; Meet Me In St Louis, The Harvey Girls and Easter Parade with Judy Garland; and Midnight Lace and Lover Come Back with Doris Day.

Her style, innovations, and influence on fashion:

  • She herself was an actress, for a time, in early 1920s silent films.
  • She earned an Academy Award nomination for B.F.’s Daughter in 1949, the first year that costume design was made a category. She was again nominated in 1961 for Midnight Lace.

Lana Turner, 1946.

  • Notably famous for putting “hot pants” on the big screen with her entrance-making white shorts for Lana Turner in 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.
  • She was the first leading costume designer to have special boutiques inside twenty leading department stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Marshall Field and Neiman-Marcus.

Sources: Stanwyck: A Biography, (1994) Axel Madsen; Irene; “Irene, Inc.” (1947) Time magazine; Vintage Fashion Guild.

Lisa Williams



February 23, 2011 #

I have to say that I am totally enjoying these biographies on the different designers from all those lovely old films.

One dress that I particularly love is the one that Debra Kerr wore in “An Affair to Remember”. It was so feminine, but not too fru-fru. I’ve done a cursory search for the designer a couple of times, but haven’t found any references to who it was at the time.

Thank you so much for this awesome information.


mary hall

February 23, 2011 #

Wonderful article on Irene! I love her work, and have long been a fan of hers. Great picture.

Lisa Lassie Sullivan

February 24, 2011 #

I can hardly write this post because I am in the midst of a SWOON!!!!!!!!


February 24, 2011 #


Thank you! The wardrobe designer for An Affair to Remember was Charles Le Maire. He also liscensed some patterns for Spadea pattern company. I hadn’t planned on doing a profile on him, but perhaps I’ll do some research. Here are some of his other movies via the IMDB


February 25, 2011 #

Just breath taking. It makes me want to watch all of the old movies just for the fashions of Irene.

Vanessa B

February 25, 2011 #

There is a perfect simple elegance to everything pictured, even the really frilly dress has such a clean bodice, it just exudes grace and elegance.

Am I the only one who the whole movie wondering when the postman would show up in The Postman always Rings Twice? Beautiful clothes in that film though, I love her top with the little tie at the neck and was reminded of Sencha, when I watched the movie a couple weeks ago, it seems like I would have seen it a long time ago but somehow I had missed it.

Kate G

March 1, 2011 #

Wonderful to read a well-researched piece on the designer who shaped the tastes of hundreds of film-goers, post-war. Aren’t those gown spectacular? I hope we see influences of Irene’s work in your lines, which have their own strong tailoring. Thank you for posting this enlightening history.

Mary Anne Svadjian

September 17, 2011 #

I wish I knew where I could get the “Pattern’s” for some of Iren’s Designs of past to buy to remake for myself.
Particularly interested in the one Doris Day work in Midnight Lace.
(The Black Lace) Pant outfit.